Drowning in Absentee Ballots, Milwaukee and Waukesha Counties Expect Results Early Wednesday



By Jonathon Sadowski

November 2, 2020

The expectations simply confirm what was already known: This election isn’t anything like past ones.

Milwaukee and Waukesha counties, home to about 1.4 million Wisconsinites, likely will not publish final election results until 3 a.m. or later Wednesday morning, the counties’ top election officials said in a Monday afternoon media briefing.

The delay was not unexpected, as a massive uptick in absentee voting has for months been anticipated to cause issues for timely release of election results. Monday’s briefing will likely serve as the final estimate before polls open at 7 a.m. Tuesday. 

Julietta Henry, the Milwaukee County elections director, said results could come as late as 6 a.m. Wednesday, while Waukesha County Clerk Meg Wartman said she expects results around 3 a.m.

“Be patient for election night results,” said Meagan Wolfe, administrator of the Wisconsin Elections Commission, who also participated in the briefing. “If unofficial results aren’t available until the next morning, it does not mean that something went wrong. It means that election officials are doing their jobs.”

A substantial source of delay is the fact that Wisconsin is one of only a handful of states that does not allow poll workers and election officials to count absentee ballots before Election Day. And with nearly 1.9 million absentee ballots cast as of the latest figures, the mountain of votes lying around will take far longer than usual due to the extra effort that must go into tabulating each vote.

“The process of opening each ballot and envelope, and processing those ballots, it is going to take quite some time,” Henry said.

The massive increase in absentee voting, spurred by the coronavirus pandemic, means that for the first time ever most Wisconsin voters are checking off their ballots before Election Day. That applies to Milwaukee and Waukesha counties: Henry said Milwaukee County anticipates just 33% of votes to be cast in-person, while Wartman said she thinks about 40% of Waukesha County residents will vote in-person.

Regardless, the officials emphasized they will do everything they can to count all votes accurately. 

“We’ll be here til we’re done,” Wartman said.

Vote totals immediately following the election—whenever they are finalized—are not technically official. They must be canvassed and certified by the state by Dec. 1.




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